As I've mentioned previously, I'm off-the-scale introverted. While I'm perfectly comfortable speaking to a group of 1,000 people, I'm ill-at-ease chit-chatting with people whom I don't know personally.
Since conferences are a bit part of the business world, I've worked very hard to overcome my introversion and become a fairly good networker. The key, I find, is to start conversations that help you get to know the other person.
To accomplish this, I have a list of sure-fire conversation starter that I review at the beginning of each day of a conference and right before any free-form networking event.
Note: all my conversation starters are open-ended questions that encourage the other person to say something substantive. Closed-ended questions (which elicit a single word answer) tend to end conversations rather than start them.
These conversation starters can be delivered at any time during a conference or meeting. However, you may come off as a bit dull if you use these during mixers or "happy hour." (See below for some more spirited openers.)
1. I heard your talk/panel/comment. What's your view on [related subject]?
2. If you could change anything about our industry, what would it be?
3. If you could change anything about this conference, what would it be?
4. What do you like best about this conference?
5. What did you think of the keynote speaker?
6. What do you like best about your job?
7. What do you wish were different about...?
8. What have you learned so far at the conference?
9. What's your goal for attending this conference?
10. Which events/sessions/breakouts are you planning to attend?
These openers are best delivered when everybody is beginning to loosen up, especially if there's an open bar. Hint: an orange juice with a lime slice gives the impression you're partying without impairing your thinking.
11. So, where are you from? [answers] Hey, what's the must-see, must-do when visiting there/here?
12. What historical figure would you like to meet and why?
13. If you could hang out with any celebrity/author, who would it be and why?
14. If f you could be a superhero, who would you be and why?
15. If you read only one book at the start of your career, what would it be?
16. If you were marooned on a desert island, which three people would you bring with you?
17. In your view, what's the greatest movie/book/tv show of all time?